NHS therapists advocate mental health benefits of climbing

Therapists and organisers have worked together to create an opportunity for people to focus on personal development and mental health recovery through climbing.

Service users at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust (SHSC) have had the opportunity to join a group at The Climbing Hangar in Burngreave.

The group has taken part in indoor climbing and bouldering – a form of climbing that doesn’t use ropes or harnesses.

Participants have felt the overwhelmingly positive benefits. One said: “Going to the climbing group motivates me to engage in more sports throughout the rest of the week.”

Creating new health opportunities

Organisers worked alongside SHSC’s services at Forest Close, Forensic Therapy and Quality Improvement, the Community Enhancing Recovery Team, as well as Sports for Confidence which is led by occupational therapists.

Jack Samways, an occupational therapist at SHSC, said: “As a group and social activity, climbing offers a complete alternative to more competitive sports, so team sports where people are having to be good enough to do something.

“Climbing is very much a role-based sport where you’re working on your personal progression. Each of the different routes is called a problem, so when you first come in you get to work through your own personal problems but in a contained way.

“The first time I climbed I felt very anxious and struggled to continue. In the end I walked out the building.

“That was about a year ago and it took a lot of determination to come back to it. That’s a really positive thing about it – that idea where the only failure is the fear of failure and then not acting.”

He added that although he isn’t necessarily into fitness, climbing has benefitted both his mental and physical health.

Max Ward, a consultant clinical psychologist at SHSC, said: “Climbing also hurts. Your feet and hands will be sore, and a lot of the time you will fail at what you try to achieve at first. When you climb, you’re learning that that is okay and how to deal with it when you face with these circumstances.

“It mirrors life. The group is aimed to teach our service users all these skills which they can then take and apply to life in general.”

Sam Brown, head coach at The Climbing Hangar, said: “It’s been so good for The Climbing Hangar and such a pleasure for us to facilitate this.

“The Climbing Hangar was all set up around making people feel great and better, that’s one of the Hangar values. So to actually be part of something that so visibly has such a high impact, that is absolutely great.

Jack, Max, and their colleagues are hoping to create a new way of thinking about offering therapy through physical activity.

Written by Annaleece Longmore

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